The Hungry Wolves, dir. Yilmaz Güney

Turkish cinema? Can’t say I know much about it. – And having sat through Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia – a director who seems to be trying to vie with Bela Tarr for the award for slowest-moving picture – maybe I mightn’t have turned to any more.

But then there is The Hungry Wolves (1969), directed by Yilmaz Güney. What to make of this? I think it’s the point where the Ennio Morricone soundtrack kicks in (lifted, perhaps one suspects without permission, from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) that you suddenly know where you are. This certainly isn’t going to turn out to be the beautifully shot but frankly tiresome if venerable account of life in a village in a Turkish backwater that you were expecting. No, it’s going to be a Western – an insane Western, which pitches itself somewhere between Sergio Leone and Jodorowsky’s El Topo. (El Topo hadn’t actually been made yet, but parts of this film are so like it – a gunfighter who carries an umbrella, our hero who constructs and lives in an igloo – one senses it still curiously manages to be influenced by it).

The plot: Well, after a relatively incomprehensible opening consisting of people getting shot and other general banditry, it’s about a village headman who puts a price on the head of a few leading bandits, at which point a bounty hunter turns up and sets about killing them off one by one. The bounty hunter himself is, however, being tracked down by the authorities for various other killings.

There’s a great joy about this film and the way it’s made. It’s as if Güney had been down his cinema and watched, oh, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the complete works of Sergio Leone and thought: right, let’s go outside in the snow and make our own film on a budget of nothing. There is a rawness to it all, naturally, and a distinct carelessness about editing. (The subtitles, which presumably were added a long time after, require a fair bit of interpretation). But there’s some really great film-making, and some great shot composition too. The film is shot in black and white, seemingly in the middle of an endless blizzard somewhere in the Turkish hinterland: so we get innumerable long shots of men wading through snowdrifts where the entire background is pure white; or men standing next to trees. It is often also at times quite mad.

(And mubi have another 3 of his films).

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2 thoughts on “The Hungry Wolves, dir. Yilmaz Güney

  1. I’d not heard of this, though I’d read a bit about Güney; sounds great. I can never see too many films of people trudging through snow. I have seen another Turkish film on MUBI, the well-shot barnstorming rural melodrama Dry Summer, which I think is available for free.

    Ceylan’s Climates is one of the worst ‘art’ films I’ve ever seen. I know I shouldn’t write him off on the basis of a single movie, but I’m not filled with eagerness to see the rest of his work.

  2. Yes, the Güney is highly recommended – but only if you like spaghetti westerns in general. – There’s a lot of Turkish films on mubi, which is why I’m having a sort of festival of them (though I can’t see Dry Summer).

    I might yet try one more of Ceylan’s, Three Monkeys, since it’s there – and since it’s considerably shorter than Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. See if it’s any better: if not, I’ll probably give the rest a miss. I didn’t give up on Anatolia – though I did actually end up watching it over two sessions – so it can’t have been that terrible, just slow and meandering.

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